Illinois (7-1) vs. Auburn (4-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, December 8, 3 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Philips Arena (18,818) -- Atlanta, Georgia. Television: FSN. Home Record: Illinois 6-0, Auburn 4-1. Away Record: Illinois 1-1, Auburn 0-1. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Series Record: Illinois leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini and the Auburn Tigers will square off in a neutral site affair, as the team's take the court at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Illinois will be playing its second straight game in Atlanta, after falling to Georgia Tech last Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 67-64. The loss was the first of the season for John Groce's squad, which opened the campaign with seven straight wins.
Tony Barbee's Tigers had a win streak of their own come to an end last time out, as the team brought a three-game win streak into its first road test at nationally-ranked Iowa State. The Cyclones were too much for Auburn at home in a 99-70 romp.
Illinois has won both prior meetings in this series, including last year's barn-burner, an 81-79 shootout in Chicago.
The Illini were neck and neck with the Yellow Jackets this week, but couldn't get over the hump down the stretch in a three-point loss at McCamish Pavilion. The loss spoiled another strong performance by Rayvonte Rice, who was 8-of-15 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the free-throw line to lead all scorers with 24 points. Joseph Bertrand was the only other Illinois player to notch double digits in the loss, finishing with 10 points.
Rice has made an immediate impact for Illinois since transferring from Drake. The 6-foot-4 junior is the first newcomer to score in double figures in his first eight games with the team since 1993-94 (Kiwane Garris). Rice leads the team with 18.0 ppg and is shooting .481 from the floor. Bertrand is next in line at 11.5 ppg and is followed by Tracy Abrams and his 11.5 ppg. Despite the scoring depth, Illinois is still known as a defensive-minded squad, limiting opponents to just 58.2 ppg and holding them well under 40 percent shooting (.370).
Auburn doesn't play the same kind of defense as Illinois and will need to find a way to break through with its explosive scorers to earn a victory in this one. Fortunately, the Tigers possess two such players in Chris Denson an KT Harrell. Denson, a senior guard, leads the SEC in scoring this season at a hefty 21.8 ppg. Harrell ranks seventh in the conference in scoring at 17.7 ppg and is nearly automatic at the free-throw line (30-of-35). The scoring pool dries up quickly after that for the Tigers, whose third leading scorer, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, is netting just 8.5 ppg.
Auburn led 12-5 early on in Ames, but couldn't sustain it, trailing by 19 at the half and finally dropping a 29-point decision to the Cyclones as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Denson was his usually dominant self, hitting 8- of-17 from the floor and 11-of-13 from the charity stripe to tally a game-high 27 points. Harrell poured in 19 points, but once again, the rest of the roster failed to provide much support. The Tigers hot a disappointing .355 from the floor in the game and suffered a 47-36 deficit in rebounding.
Auburn has a strong scoring duo in Denson and Harrell, but they will be facing perhaps their toughest defensive challenge to date. Playing tough defense is a given for Illinois, which should be able to earn the win here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 68, Auburn 63
12/08 10:35:28 ET